If you look back at the history of education in Cambodia, you will see that education for the disabled has never been a priority. Many disabilities are still keeping kids out of school, and until recently, there has been no education for the blind.
Recognising the lack of education for the blind, the Krousar Thmey organisation created the first school for blind children in 1994, and it continues to provide the opportunity for disabled people to get an education and obtain the basic knowledge that will allow them to become self-sufficient adults.
“Krousar Thmey found out that the blind have the same ability as normal children to read and write,” said Tep Ratha, an advocacy officer at the
Phnom Penh Thmei School of Blind and Deaf Children. “It gives blind children a chance to get an education and reduce discrimination in society.”
He added that blind students actually pay more attention than the normal students in the public schools and get exceptionally good grades.
The education that these blind children receive follows the national curriculum, but also includes additional subjects like English, traditional music, computers and weaving. In order to attend Krousar Thmei, students must be younger than 14 years old.
Blind students can read by using Khmer Braille, a system of printing for blind people where letters are printed as groups of raised dots that the students can feel with their fingers.
Krousar Thmey has been creating Khmer Braille and continues to translate national school books and other books using this system. The organisation also makes specific tools and adapts materials to facilitate teaching the blind.
The adaptability of blind students is quite surprising, but Tep Ratha said that some subjects are more difficult. “Geometry and experimental sciences such as physics, biology and chemistry are very difficult subjects for the blind to study because they are related to picture drawing.”
According to Krousar Thmey, their students who finish high school but who do not want to continue at the university level are welcome to train to be teachers at the Phnom Penh Thmei School.
There are currently three students who do not want to continue their studies at university and are working as teachers at their former school, while eight students from Krousar Thmey are pursuing their bachelor’s degrees at Royal University of Phnom Penh.
Born completely blind in Banteay Meanchey province, Nhem Sinat has been discriminated against and forgotten, giving her a generally pessimistic view of life.
But she said things changed after she got a chance to get an education at Krousar Thmey in 1995.
Nhem Sinat, now a 21-year-old student in grade 12 who has been living at Krousar Thmey, said that her past was quite difficult.
“I felt very depressed throughout my life. I didn’t know who my parents were, and became further removed from my family when my aunt abandoned me at the pagoda,” she said.
“After getting help from Krousar Thmey, however, I learned how to look after myself and have new hope in my life,” she added.
“Although I can’t see anything, I don’t want anyone to look after me because I think that I can be normal like them,” she said.
Despite her disability, Nhem Sinat feels optimistic about her future career.
“I am committed to continuing my studies until I graduate from the university because I want to be an English literature professor,” she said.
As Nhem Sinat’s teacher, Hean Samee appreciates her pupil’s efforts, saying the young woman “is an orphan, but she is a hardworking student and she has a good personality. She often teaches English to blind kids during her free time”.
Krousar Thmey is funded by French, English and Swiss donor agencies, and it cooperates with partners such as the Association of the Blind in
Cambodia (ABC) and Cambodian Development Mission for Disability (CDMD).
Krousar Thmey not only helps blind children; it also works with children with many other disabilities.